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Pokémon Go: Will the Game Become a Game Changer in the Travel Bizz?

Credit: Dave Odegard
Credit: Dave Odegard
Mandy Voisin
Written by Mandy Voisin

If you’re a human on planet Earth, chances are you’ve heard of Pokémon Go, or are already playing it. If not, well, maybe you should get going.

Pokémon is a Japanese media franchise based on fictional characters called “Pokémon,” which humans (also known as Pokémon Trainers) catch and train to battle each other. Though it’s been around since 1995 with collectible cards, a television show, and video games, Pokémon Go is the franchise’s first foray into augmented reality.

The game has broken nearly every mobile game record, and is now the biggest game in mobile history

With 20 million active daily users and 100 million downloads, the app made between $3.9 — 4.9 million on day one, and is predicted to have made $200 million since its launch a month ago (a predicted $10 million a day).

Of course, it’s so much more than a game. Known as augmented reality, Pokémon Go isn’t just another virtual world, where players can get lost (i.e. World of Warcraft and Second Life) – it’s a virtual world essentially overlaid on the real world. For the first time maybe ever, the game developers at Nintendo have done what Michelle Obama, teachers, and our parents have been trying to get kids to do for years – go out and play. Only thing is they’re using the game’s platform to do so, and it appeals to more than just kids.

And while there’s plenty out there about what it’s doing for individuals (this guy quit his job to catch ‘em all, a college ballplayer was shot while playing in San Francisco, some players broke into the Toledo Zoo,  and there was a stampede in Central Park when a Vaporeon showed up), it’s also transforming the travel industry. In fact, the app has been out for just over a month, and the transformation has already begun.

There are two camps for how the travel industry has reacted to it. While many businesses are taking advantage of the game’s popularity since you actually have to go somewhere to “catch” the elusive Pokémon, others aren’t loving the game. In fact, whole countries have outright banned it.

In Camp Love, we have National Parks. Thrilled about the traffic it’s driving to their grounds, several parks and monuments (including Thomas Jefferson’s homestead Monticello) have begun to post about the rare Pokémon found on their grounds on Facebook and other social media sites, garnering attention from locals and visitors alike. And the National Mall and Memorial in Washington D.C. have taken it to a whole new level and are offering ranger-guided Pokémon Go hunts.

Local businesses are also in Camp Love – as long as they play their cards right. Businesses can benefit from the buzz by paying to send out “lures” to drive traffic to their storefront. L’Inzio pizzeria bar in Long Island, Queens, is taking full advantage, paying $10 to lure characters to their location. Since they did that, the restaurant’s business has shot up 75%.

And that’s just the beginning. Pokémon Go tours have already been announced. Junior Travel out of Spain was one of the first to launch an official tour, and received over 2,000 applicants for the guide position. Launching in Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid, the tour takes rookies to hot-spots for Pokémon throughout the city. And Tony Kenmuir out of Edinburgh boasts a taxi route that offers 50 potential Pokémon targets on a single journey.

An Austin tour bus is doing something similar, offering extended bus rides to catch the Pokémon. The tour’s founder Philip Lloyd guides passengers in tracking the live creatures, alerting passengers when they’re coming up on them and offering background information on Austin neighborhoods they pass through when there’s a lull. “Alright, everyone,” he said, “so we have a Kadabra coming up. We have about 90 seconds to catch it.”

When embraced properly, there are hundreds of ways businesses and sites can capitalize off of the game. But the game is definitely not without its critics.

Although the game offers many benefits such as exercise, sun, and the opportunity to make new friends, it also leads visitors to sites where it may be inappropriate to play the game.

The National Parks, while thrilled about the traffic it’s driving to their grounds, announced that people need to pay attention to their surroundings,  since there are real animals there and places where you can hurt yourself if distracted. Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania also issued a Facebook reminder that the park is “sacred ground,” hoping that Pokémon doesn’t get in the way of the respect the space requires.

And the Holocaust Museum and Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial have pleaded with Pokémon hunters to stop playing on their sacred grounds. Andrew Hollinger, the communications director for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum told USA TODAY, “Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls far outside our educational and memorial mission.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “This can’t be another chapter, it can’t be another scavenger hunt. That’s a desecration of the memory of the victims and it’s a cheapening of the history.”

But sacred sites aren’t the only ones concerned. Safety is also a very big issue. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that registered sex offenders would not be allowed to download the game as a condition of their sentence. Since 22% of users are minors, they become potential targets for sex offenders, especially since they are distracted, and lured to the same sites adults are. They are also hoping to prevent any Pokéstops from appearing less than 100 feet from a registered sex offender’s residence.

Other countries are beginning to see the dangers of distraction the game poses. Iran flat out banned the game, Kuwait banned it at government sites, and an Indonesian official said that the app presents a “security threat.” A Russian news anchor also warned that playing the game in a church could send players to jail for up to three years.

Regardless of the camp you’re in, one thing is certain –  Pokémon Go is revolutionizing the travel industry. But the big question is: will it last? Other trends have sparked an initial buzz but later died, and some speculate the same will happen with this game. With virtual reality offering a refreshingly real-world approach, encouraging individuals to move, travel, get outside, to Pokémon Go somewhere, some think this is one trend that is here to stay. As for the long-term effects of the game on the travel industry?

Only time will tell.

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About the author

Mandy Voisin

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet.

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